I recently attended IAB ALM & AdExchanger Industry Preview, two very important events allowing an open exchange about the challenges and opportunities we’re seeing in the digital advertising industry. Three main highlights stood out: the importance of advertising revenue in supporting the role of journalists, the blending of performance marketing with brand authenticity, and ushering a contextual ecosystem amid heavy regulation changes.
The Importance of the Tech Ecosystem in Funding Journalism
Journalism has been the function of keeping the public informed of the changing world around us and the issues affecting our society for centuries. The greatest value of news is to empower the informed and provide individuals in society with the information they need to make the best possible decisions for themselves and decisions about their governments. News is the cornerstone of any functioning democracy.
The industry has put a spotlight on the role of funding free press as a fundamental part of our democracy. There is a general understanding that in order to send journalists to report on world events, there needs to be a sustainable source of revenue to fund this crucial privilege.
In traditional news outlets such as TV or print newspapers, advertising is commonplace; however, the traditional news organization business model has substantially evolved, publishers must find the balance between sustaining ad revenue without intrusive formats to master the business of online news in an increasingly digitized world. It’s therefore critical for news organizations to partner with the right technology companies that help them find sustainable revenue models, funding independent journalism and maintaining the flow of information in a free society.
The Happy Marriage Between Brand and Performance Marketing
In these evolving economic times where companies are more cautious than ever about their budgets, it’s critical to show return on spend. Brands are really thinking about how much they’re spending and are giving more consideration to the impact on their business, and how measurable that impact is. This is where the digital industry has enabled brands to connect the dots more than ever before and to see the impact, whether it’s a conversion, time on site, sign up, engagement, etc.
When advertising first started, brand awareness was the only metric used, with traditional forms of media such as billboards or TV not having ways of tracking conversions – i.e. there was no way to determine whether a sale occurred because some saw your ad in a magazine. The digital revolution has enabled companies to tie advertising to measurable and stricter metrics.
That being said, brand awareness is never going away. There is a growing connection between storytelling and performance. During a session at AdExchanger Industry Preview, one panelist reflected on a very important point: “Search wins the credit in the end, but everything that happened before the search leads to the purchase”. We expect brands to focus on full funnel metrics where they will find a balance in their advertising messages between authenticity and return on investment, and technology partners will introduce new solutions to meet these growing needs. People expect to engage with a brand in a way that feels personal and relevant while simultaneously not feeling intrusive.
Brands and Publishers are Embracing Privacy-Forward Advertising
Whilst users expect a relevant experience, many people have lost trust in how their data is used online. Privacy is about building trusting relationships with their audience, and the new cookieless world will present an opportunity to not only establish that relationship but also act as a platform for a great value exchange.
During the AdExchanger Industry Preview panel session, one publisher remarked, “We need to make sure what we know about our users stays with us.”
Brands and publishers need to be able to match the right context to the situation and ensure audiences will have a positive experience. The best way to think about this is to focus on the long term reward when deciding when to leverage data – i.e. if you’re going to leverage someone’s data, make sure it is valuable for them as well. Whilst there is hesitation in the industry about a cookieless future, the industry is shining a spotlight on how it will usher in a new era where respecting users comes first.
This is where contextual advertising has re-emerged as the most valuable way to reach audiences. Contextual uses anonymized aggregated data that allows brands and publishers to no longer rely on other tracking methods that don’t follow consent rules, meaning it’s the most future proof method in the face of increased industry regulation. Working with publishers provides a privacy-safe environment for advertisers to buy in, built on top of consented first-party data and without the need for third-party cookies.
There is a growing appetite to move ad budgets to news sites as advertisers understand more than ever the importance of journalism in providing us with the privilege of accessing critical national and local news for free. Whilst it’s enticing to focus ad budgets on performance metrics, it’s critical that brands find an advertising balance that also shows their authenticity and willingness to connect with audiences.
The new data frontier will certainly bring challenges to our industry, but it will also pave the way for greater user transparency and new methods of reaching audiences such as Contextual. Using contextual data points and signals will maximize engagement and help reach the right audiences for advertisers, and for publishers, it will help grow audiences amid dwindling page views.
Overall, there is a growing sentiment for storytelling, for giving greater respect to users, and for encouraging a digital news ecosystem that fuels our democracies.